The Stupid, Painful Chemistry of Snorting 'Coco Loko' Chocolate

Just eat a damn Snickers bar.

Drugslab/Dutch Government

People will do anything for a good high, whether it’s snorting coffee or sniffing poppers. Recognizing this, a Florida-based company called Legal Lean is trying to sell an extremely dubious “snortable” chocolate to the drug-loving masses.

And it’s succeeding.

For many years, snorting chocolate has been a club drug of choice in Europe. Nick Anderson, the owner of Legal Lean, is the first to bring cacao coating to noses stateside. Coco Loko, a cocoa-based powder laced with gingko biloba, taurine and guarana, promises a rush of euphoric energy — not unlike what you get from simply drinking an energy drink — by supposedly triggering the release of happy hormones like endorphins and serotonin. The product, which promises “a state of euphoria similar to the feeling of ecstasy,” is marketed as a variation on snuff, the fine-ground tobacco product that humans have been snorting for centuries.

But can it really deliver the goods?

What’s Snortable and What’s Snot

People snort drugs because insufflation allows chemicals to rapidly reach the blood-brain barrier and produce a faster, better high. But not every substance is built for snorting, and some of them will just make your nose hurt.

Pure cocaine is one of the best drugs for snorting because it naturally — and aggressively — diffuses across the blood-brain barrier, meaning it can go straight to your brain and deliver a high directly. But remember that pure cocaine is a purified chemical extracted from its original source; in its natural state, cocaine is just the coca plant. People chew its leaves or turn them into tea, but they certainly don’t snort coca leaf powder. As one user on Drugs-Forum pointed out in 2007, the concentration of cocaine alkaloid in the ground-up leaves is low, and “the vegetable matter would not dissolve in you [sic] sinuses, just obstruct them.”

Coco Loko is reportedly made of cacao powder, which is the cacao bean equivalent of ground-up coca leaves — in other words, vegetable matter that probably has a low concentration of any compound (probably caffeine) that can get people high.

Anderson, recognizing that the naturally occurring chemicals in cocoa aren’t going to get anyone stoned, infused his product with common energy drink ingredients like guarana and gingko biloba extract and taurine. These are all certainly stimulants, but unlike cocaine, they’re usually ingested rather than snorted. In an interview about Coco Loko with the Washington Post, Dr. Andrew Lane, director of the Johns Hopkins Sinus Center, pointed out that “it’s not clear how much of each ingredient would be absorbed into the nasal mucus membranes” but warned that, if snorted in high enough amounts, they have the potential to raise blood pressure and cause heart palpitations, just like energy drinks.

There’s a lot we don’t know about how Coco Loko works, but we do know that it doesn’t seem especially well suited for snorting, and that whatever active ingredients do get to the brain through insufflation can just as easily be ingested. When people snort caffeine-containing substances like ground-up coffee, some caffeine may make it to their brains, but not much: that’s because caffeine needs time and water to slowly leach out of the ground beans. So, while it may seem boring to sip cold brew or drink Ovaltine rather than snort Coco Loko, doing so will probably give you a better energy “high.”

Insufflation offers a more direct route for drugs to reach and cross the blood-brain barrier — if they're in the right form.

So, is it worth it? Not only is Coco Loko’s promised euphoria suspect, it may have negative health effects. Doctors have long been worried about what our nation’s love of energy drinks means for our health, and Coco Loko has many of the same ingredients. Plus, the whole process of snorting the brown powder would likely hurt a lot. Your nose is literally designed to keep things out — dust, ill-advised lines of chocolate, and just about anything else. What doesn’t dissolve up there either gets sneezed out or swallowed through post-nasal drip, or, if it mixes with enough mucus, turns into a thick, goopy, sinus-blocking paste.

So if you do ultimately order yourself a Coco Loko delivery, consider yourself warned: You probably just spent $24.99 on a few expensive sneezes and a lot of brown snot.

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